How to Be Your Own Mom and Finally Get Everything You Need
3 Helpful tips to break the vicious circle of “hating” and neglecting yourself
Haven’t we all technically understood that it would be a good idea to “make peace with ourselves”? Relating to yourself in a more caring way will fuel resilience and self-confidence. It will help us be better versions of ourselves in any area of life. But unfortunately, we can’t just flip a switch. In many cases, the word “self-care” doesn’t go any deeper than aloe vera face masks and scented body lotion.
I believe that there’s one common thing that really stops us from actually putting real care and understanding towards ourselves into practice, and it happens to the smartest of us at all ages—which is keeping our Moms “outsourced”.
There’s a sense that care, love and protection are things that come to us from somewhere else. We expect our mom to give them to us. If our mom refuses to give them to us, we lack them forever. We do have an “inner mom”, but this inner mom is still a copy of the real-life mom. The amount of care and love our inner mom can give us is equal to the amount of care and love our real-life mom gave us. We genuinely, deeply don’t think we should get any more.
Practicing Authentic Love
Let’s face it: Isn’t it our goal to be better parents than our parents were? So why don’t we go ahead and practice being good parents to ourselves first (or simultaneously, if you have kids). If your self-talk is hateful, ignorant, unbalanced, careless or choleric, I don’t think you can be truly and sustainably patient, loving and empowering to your kids (or other loved ones).
Having parents who are greedy with or unable to give authentic love can often tempt you to become bitter. The bitterness is there for a reason, it’s an important indicator and it’s useless to fight it. But bitterness can usually be turned into a pleasant, special flavor as soon as sweetness is added. So why don’t you just give yourself the attention and care you want?
The vicious circle of treating ourselves the way we believe to deserve it
You didn’t get the needed care from your parents; so you felt you don’t deserve it; that’s why now as a grown-up, you still don’t give it to yourself (even if you know you lack it). But not giving yourself any care results in believing you don’t deserve it. Your behavior actually offends and hurts your psyche — it’s a vicious circle.
A while ago, I read about a homeless shelter, in which, before receiving help, homeless individuals were asked to enter an empty room with only a mirror and a chair, and were given the assignment: “Stay in there until you have found someone who deserves shelter and care.” This is an example of an attempt to break the vicious circle of “I don’t deserve, so I don’t give myself”.
Such patterns can be very severe and can easily last a lifetime. At times, they seem painfully inevitable. Of course, if we were beaten up, we will feel like we don’t deserve respect and protection. Of course there’s a vicious circle, a mark on our nervous system; it has a good reason to exist.
But I think there’s a loophole: One of our human superpowers is imagination. Let’s replace the inner mom, who is a copy of our biological mom, with a mom-image which we create ourselves. Overwrite, new version. “Cozy Mom”, so to say! We can put all of our highest hopes and ideals into this archetype. The answers and reactions we craved as children, we can now get from our new inner mom. This inner mom is part of ourselves; we have gained the skill and clarity to love and care better. We are capable of doing things in a different way, and of inventing new ways of relating.
And all of a sudden, you don’t need you real mom to be perfect, and you can just visit her and see her as an imperfect, but adorable and — wait, what? — lovable human beings, who is powerless when it comes to decide how much care you are drowned in.
If you can retroactively decide to drown yourself in care, support, kisses, patience and forgiveness, you will notice immediately that you’re capable of providing yourself with all the emotional nutrients that you felt you lacked all this time. This might take a lot of practice, and even more willingness to imagine the unfamiliar.
Imagine you had a child.
Maybe you do, already; or maybe you’re way too young or don’t ever want to have kids — however close this is to your reality: Imagine you had a little toddler, maybe four years old.
How would you want to treat your own child?
Ideally, how would you want to treat this kid? How would you want to react if it did something wrong? Or if it tried, but failed to do something? How would you react if it was suffering? Or if it was scared? If it misjudged a situation? What tone of voice would you generally want to use? In what way would you be its anchor in times of emotional disturbance and stress?
Answer these questions to yourself. Every mom has her own style. Especially if you are a mom or a dad already, think ideally, not realistically. How would like to treat this tiny human? Probably with things like…
…endless amounts of patience, love, care, patience, respect, attention, honesty, authenticity, wisdom, helpful reflections, a guiding but not controlling connection, safety rails, a bag full of material resources that can save the day and make the kid feel comfortable (like water, a snack, wet wipes, a throw-up bag, crayons and paper, a pacifier, a book the parent has already read 5000 times but is willing to read again just out of love…), a mind full of non-material resources that have the same power (like a bed-time song, a silly joke, a game that distracts in uncomfortable situations, different types of hugs and kisses…), a set of “rules out of love”, to make this overwhelming life manageable, and the willingness to always try to find the exact thing that would support or relief this human right now.
Now treat yourself that way.
Now apply this way of treating someone to your everyday life, and practice with a really close person — yourself. Resist the urge to turn this into a brainy theory. Rather than overthinking this, train it a little bit throughout your day — this is more a practical thing than it is an intellectual one!
Your body will tell you the direction to go, and your brain will add its comments. Here are some basic steps to practice:
You feel something that doesn’t feel nice, because of a certain situation.
Example: You get angry at yourself for having bought a shirt for $49.90, which was on sale in a different store for $29.90.
Now imagine, if your child was in this situation, what would you say to it?
Example: Don’t worry, money is really a weird game, it comes and goes, so if you lose some today, you’ll win some tomorrow, and also, by buying the shirt in the first store means supporting that shop owner, and maybe he was short on money for Christmas presents!
Now try and imagine what your parents would have said to you (which might cause you to speak to yourself like this now).
Example: Oh nooooooo!! (Eye rolling.) Tssss…. (More eye rolling.) UGHH.
Tell your “old mom” with the guilt-framing approach “Hey, I understand why you’re upset but this doesn’t help this child right now, does it?”. Imagine your old mom fading into the background and becoming… Transparent. Ghost-like. And see yourself, your person now, as a grown up, stand there really solid and clear, and empathetic, and loving, and present.
Sorry for drifting off there into a weird visualization thing — if it isn’t for you, ignore it. But fact is, you are your own new mom. That’s in a way exactly what we call “growing up”. Realize it, own, it, live up to it. You’re a mom now, you have to get your act together, you have to decide how you want to love, and you have to dedicate your life to caring for this person, yourself. Do you have a choice?
Giving away your child
Maybe. A real-life mom could give her kid away to other people. You could do a similar thing to yourself, for example by taking narcotic drugs or getting super drunk every day. That’s a way of saying “I’m not gonna take care of this thing. What thing again?” Consequently, other people (hopefully) take over caring for you, in this case by bringing you some water, holding your hair up over the toilet, getting you a taxi. In a different case, a nursery home, clinic or therapeutic facility might take care of you. From this point of view, addiction and repetitive destructive behavior often happens when people “were not ready to be parents”, meaning they were not equipped to dedicate to care for themselves as lovable, care-worthy and vulnerable human beings with very individual needs and preferences.
(That’s why I never get blind drunk— because I would never do that to my own daughter. I would never give her so much alcohol that she lost her mind, felt horrible in her body and ends up being sick all over herself or passing out. Would you do that to someone you love?)
Be a good mom to yourself, others mostly don’t feel responsible for that! Read on for further inspiration on the how.
2 Cozy Mom
Here’s a list of some examples what your new inner mom could act like:
- Cozy Mom wants you to eat well, sleep well and surround yourself with the most sweetest and resourceful people who empower you instead you shutting you down. If you spend time in toxic environments, she gets worried very quickly and seeks conversation.
- Cozy Mom carefully informs you about reality whenever emotions distort the world around you.
- Cozy Mom sometimes just lets you cry it out. She makes you feel validated and accepted when you’re a mess.
- Cozy Mom is a cheerleader in situations that require you to perform. She acts as a stress-reliever and is the right kind of encouraging and optimistic without being annoying or setting unrealistic expectations.
- Cozy Mom gets upset and angry whenever you put yourself in dangerous or unhealthy situations. She will see risks that you don’t see and will want you to stay safe. Even if chances are low that the worst case happens, it’s not worth risking it. (Because you are wonderful and unique and precious and if anything happened to you, it would be devastating.)
- Cozy Mom has a set of “rules out of love”, to make this overwhelming life manageable. “Hold hands before crossing a street” might have been one earlier, “no screens after 9pm” might be one now, or: “no more than two cups of coffee a day”, “take breaks every hour while working”, “open a book at least three times a week”, “don’t accidentally agree to appointments you don’t want to attend”.
- Cozy Mom is willing to put in effort trying to find the exact thing that would support or relieve this human right now.
- Cozy Mom has the Mom Bag full of material resources that can save the day. She knows what kinds of things to buy and carry along, that help nourish and empower the kid. Earlier, this might have been tranquilizers, diapers, wet wipes, throw-up bags, a set of clothes to change into in case of a pee accident, crayons, emergency animal biscuits. Today, the resources you need in order to care for yourself might have changed (although I still catch myself buying those stupid biscuits!). Think about it — would a more carefully chosen set of clothes make you feel more respected, interesting and creative — or comfortable? What about tech — do your current electronics empower you do exactly what you want to do? Do you carry around a lunch thermos because a warm, self-cooked meal lands best in your tummy? Do your kitchen tools meet your needs? Does your flat? Your bike/car? Would you need more art supplies? Plants? Telescopes? Hiking gear?
This is not about buying lots of stuff. It’s about selecting and curating exactly the things that you need and that elevate you. Buy those! And maybe, in the next step, you’ll find a couple of things that you actually don’t need. Maybe, while you need a good laptop, you could totally do without a car! Maybe you don’t need more than a couple of decent shirts that you really like, because although it’s a nice thought, you never actually wear those fancy blouses and funky crop tops. After years of accidentally believing that all humans just own jeans, I threw out all of my jeans and am today living happily with only elastic black trousers that don’t strangle my belly when I sit down. (People sometimes call it “style”, but initially it’s just “me not being willing to cooperate with denim”).
You don’t buy braces for a kid with straight teeth. Similarly, don’t buy tons of home workout equipment, if you actually just enjoy taking walks in the park or tap dancing. Don’t buy products that don’t solve your needs or cravings.
Otherwise, the Mom Bag will get way too heavy to carry around, and it will be a bad Mom Bag, as it isn’t curated to nourish and empower you.
- Cozy Mom also carries a mind full of non-material resources to regulate emotions. Before, it might have been like a bed-time song, a silly joke, a clapping game that keeps you happy in boring situations. Maybe you need exactly those things today.
Maybe you also need someone to talk at you soothingly during anxiety attacks. Maybe you need someone who keeps coming up with new creative ways of showing you you. Someone who can help you understand your unhelpful mental patterns and asks the right questions at the right time.
You can practice these patient and loving conversations any time you feel uneasy. You can be the biggest mess — your inner Cozy Mom will watch over you and stay grounded.
3 Chaos Interview
Below, you’ll find an example of such a conversation between a loving inner mom and an anxious you. I often conduct these conversations on paper or in my digital notes. I find that to be easier than just to carry them out in your head, since by writing, you create a clear division between A) the voice of the uneasy child and b) Cozy Mom’s guidance. I call this “Chaos Interview” and I apply it anytime I feel like I am not coping well “on my own”, and/or having strong emotional reaction.
Cozy Mom: What are you crying about my sweetie / my love / mousie / (insert what you’s like to be addressed as)…
Upset Me: I don’t know….
My stomach hurts.
Ohh, poor thing, yeah, I can see your stomach does hurt.
It also feels full, right?
Too full. Not with food….. something is in there that doesn’t want to come out?
What kind of emotions?
I want to throw up…
Are you angry?
Anxious. And stressed…
I want to throw up…
If you would, what would come out? What is that knot in your throat?
Hmmm… The pain of being lonely, not having any friends or a social community where I could explore things safely, not being integrated socially… Feeling shit in myself and in my body, missing out on so much of the fun and exhilaration because I was not part of anything… Being so hard on myself and working so hard but ending up so lonely…
Can you describe the location of the pain in your body?
Sides of the middle stomach, a stinging pain, especially left side. A fullness and pressure in the entire stomach area.
Could you name some associations that come up right now as you feel into your system?
The cool kids
There’s some secret to this world which I am not invited to see
I am not invited
I am isolated, not allowed to do things, not able to take part in peer things
I putting myself under pressure
What are you afraid of?
I don’t know, everything….
Of my partner leaving me and going “she was never good enough for me”…
Of me always being scared of everything…”
What are some Shoulds in this?
I should stop feeling awkward in social situations
I should work more and be more successful
I should be more disciplined and maybe famous or known
I should be a cooler person, more open, extroverted, charismatic, interesting…
Is there any way in which you feel deeply not loved?
I feel extremely, deeply laughed at, and found cute and pitiful when I actually wanted to be respected and wanted to belong.
You do know that in reality, you are wonderful, right? You are really deeply loved… Maybe let’s look at who laughed at you before. Can you remember a specific situation?
As you can see: with the presence and guidance of an inner Cozy Mom, you can arrive at clarity while you yourself are nothing but a great big mess. You can go from knowing nothing except that you’re crying, and feel sick and anxious, to seeing the painful sweet spots in your memory that make this situation today so threatening, and you can deepen your understanding of yourself and carefully and consistently relieve yourself from unhelpful beliefs.*
By the way — If the conversation outlined above doesn’t sound like your ideal Cozy Mom to you, just choose a different style. There are no two moms of a kind. Everyone will have their own idea of what will be a helpful and nurturing mom, and there’s no reason to try and change that. What’s important is just that you give yourself what you perceive as the best kind of love, in other words; you give yourself what you need.
Imagine the unfamiliar for so long until it becomes familiar.
Vicious circle, reversed
It’s not just the insights that result of these kinds of conversations, but also the pure act of care, presence, respect of your feelings, the effort to make you feel relieved — all these things feed your subconscious belief that you deserve love and care. The vicious circle was reversed: Because you care, you feel you deserve care, so you give yourself care, which makes you think even more highly of yourself…
At first, this can feel deeply unfamiliar and therefore wrong. It can for quite a while feel like you don’t deserve to be treated that kindly, and that you are just “faking” to be nice to yourself. Remember, the loophole is imagination! Imagine a Cozy Mom. Imagine the unfamiliar. Keep imagining the unfamiliar, as long as it takes, until it turns into the familiar.
Be your own mom and you can get everything you need. Plus, you’ll be able to relieve your real-life mom from her longstanding job of being responsible for your care. Retire her — today, you’re better equipped to know what you need than anyone else on this planet.
*If you’d like a complete framework for “belief debugging”, look here.